MPs walk out over NUL Bill

MASERU — Opposition MPs walked out of parliament in protest over the National University of Lesotho (Amendment) Bill 2011. The MPs said they felt “cheated and sidelined” after the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party brought the Bill on Monday without informing them. They also refused to vote on a motion to adopt the report of the social cluster portfolio committee on the Bill arguing the document was contradictory. However, 30 minutes after the walk-out, LCD MPs who form the majority of the 120-strong member House, adopted the report and passed the Bill. Present in parliament on Monday were Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, Finance Minister Timothy Thahane, Justice Minister Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa, Local Government Minister Ponts’o Sekatle, Education Minister ‘Mamphono Khaketla, Public Works Minister Semano Sekatle and the majority of LCD MPs. The NUL management was represented by Vice-Chancellor Sharon Siverts, Pro-Vice Chancellor Mafa Sejanamane and other officials from the education ministry. Representatives of trade unions such as the Lesotho University Teachers and Researchers Union, Non-Academic Workers Union and the Congress of Trade Unions, who are opposed to the Bill, were not present. Speaking on behalf of the opposition yesterday, Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) deputy leader Sello Maphalla, who is also a member of the social cluster committee, told the Lesotho Times that they were dealt a bitter blow by not being informed that the Bill and its report would be “discussed in parliament on Monday”. Maphalla said opposition MPs walked out of parliament because it was apparent that  erybody “except us” had been informed that the discussion of the two documents would be dealt with on Monday. “We had been informed the previous Friday that the report and the Bill would be brought into the house on Tuesday. We were not prepared to have it done on Monday,” Maphalla said. “But funny enough, LCD MPs who are part of the social cluster committee had been told beforehand that the two documents would enter the house.” The presence of the NUL  anagement and the prime minister were clear indicators that the opposition had been shunned on purpose, Maphalla said. “So we decided that it would be best to wash our hands off the Bill and the report. They are not ours, but belong to the LCD. We are not part of the Bill,” Maphalla said. The draft law proposes that the National University Act, 1992, be amended by deleting section 49 and substituting it with the Labour Code Act 1992. “Notwithstanding any provisions of this Act (NUL Act), appointment and conditions of service of a member of staff or other officer or servant of the university shall be dealt with in accordance with the Labour Code Act, 1992,” the statement says. “The NUL Council or any statutory body of the university, in the exercise of its powers and functions under this Act, is entitled to exercise any right or power, or discharge any obligation conferred upon an employer by or under the Labour Code Act.” The report said although the social cluster committee had misgivings that the amendment would “give the employer excess power over the employee”, it still wanted the Bill passed. “The Bill seems to be in favour of the NUL authority and poses a serious threat to the entire NUL academic staff,” reads part of the report. “However, in order to address the prevailing state of affairs, the committee finds it imperative to recommend to the House, enactment of this law to afford the administration a chance to deal with the situation.” Popular Front for Democracy deputy leader, Thabang Kholumo, argued that the report was “confusing, misleading, and misdirected”. “This amendment is going to bring about instability in Lesotho and this report doesn’t help us one bit,” Kholumo said. BNP MP Metsing Lekhanya said he feared that the law “is going to be a draconian piece of legislation”. LWP MP Rantelali Shea, challenged why the House was intent on adopting the report when the social cluster  ommittee was itself worried “about the possible repercussions of the amendment”. “Why should you recommend that this report be adopted in its current state?” Shea charged. However, Minister Semano Sekatle suggested that although the House was arguing about the recommendations of the committee, the report should end on section 4, which says the amendment was “approved in its entirety” after being studied clause by clause”.

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